11 Aug




Hey bwana, lete cigara paketi moja

Hakuna salama?, hakuna habari?, sasa cigara cigara?

Pole sana, salamalekum, bwana habari gani, habari ya kazi?..

walekum as salaam, mzuri sana,

Sasa lete cigara tafadhali paketi moja.

Hakuna matata.


It is 1972 and I have been inTanzania three years and thus could speak a little Swahili. The above conversation took place when I arrived at a remote village shop in the night and straight away asked for a packet of cigarette.


Hi mister, let me have a packet of cigarette

No salaam, no asking for news, straight away cigarette, cigarette?

Very sorry, salamalekum, Sir how are you, how is your work?

Walekum as salaam, very good

Now can I have a packet of cigarette please?

No problem


Hakuna matata is spoken by a character in the animated film “The Lion King”. Swahili is a sweet language (aren’t all languages?) Due to Arab influence in Zanzibar and coastal Tanzania, the language is loaded heavily with Arabic words, even though they are distorted a bit. You must have seen the film named ‘HATARI’. This word means ‘danger’ and is coming from Arabic ‘Khatra’. Habari is from Khabar, tafadhali is tafazzal etc.

People will meet on the street and will spend minutes asking each other about home, wife, children, work, health, etc. and then the other will do the same to the first.

Ahmadu ,” Bwana, assalamo alekum, habari gani?” (What is the knews)

Abdullahi,” Walekum as salaam mzuri sana,”  (Very good)

Habari wa kazi” (How is the work”)


Habari wa toto (How the kids)

Mzuri sana

Habari wa jumbani  (how is home, meaning wife)



Abdullahi will now take his turn and ask the same questions and Ahmadu will reply with mzuri  sana and alhamdulillah alternately.


After living inTanzania, I had developed a habit of asking for news, well being, salam etc with even strangers before coming to the point. I went to Karachi in 1975 to get married and one day I accompanied my brother-in-law to the market to buy meat. I approached the butcher, who was sitting on his heals before a mound of raw and exposed meat, and said, “assalamo alekum, kya hall hain” woh mera mooNh dekhne laga aur my brother said quietly kya kar rahe hain.


     I asked my Tanzanian friend what time in the evening should I come. He said come at 12. I said what? He said yes at 12 in the evening. Later I learnt that they are following Arabic mode of timing. In Arab (or Islam) the day starts at sunset. After maghrib you count 1, 2, 3 etc till midnight you have 6. Morning is 12. At the sunset it is 12. Noon is at 6. At Juma prayers the mosque clock shows 7 and not 1. For example, even today all over the world, Ramzan starts after sighting moon and Taraweeh is read that night and the roza starts the next day. The taraweeh is stopped the day you sight the end of Ramazan moon. Ordinary people follow this system (or used to then at least) while official time was as international a.m., p.m. etc.


    I also noticed that the Africans could count up to five only when the Arabs arrived. Then they had a word for ten. That was all. The other counts are all Arabic. See:

Moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano, sitta, saba, tamanini, tisa, kumi  (Swahili)

Wahed, isnin, salasa, ruba, hamsa, sitta, tamanini, tisa, ashara. (Arabic) 


Twenty is ishrini, hundred is mia, thousand is alafu, just like Arabic.


Fifiteen will be kumi na tano


seventeen will be kumi na saba


forty two will be arbaina mbili


one hundred is mia moja


At six p.m. you ask some one what is the time, (Saa ngaapi?) he will say kumi na mbili. (twelve). They use Arabic word ‘saa’ for the time as well as for hour.


     They have their own word for God. When not saying Allah, they use Mungu, especially when they are in Swahili mode. In the beginning I happened to confront a student for doing some mischief in class. He was speaking Swahili rapidly which I could not understand. He was repeatedly saying “Haki ya Mungu” and at the same time crossing his throat with his fore finger. I thought that he was threatening me that he will kill me if I continued accusing him. Later I learnt that he was trying to swear by God that he was innocent. Haki it turned out to be Arabic word “Haq” meaning truth.


     The British brought Indians from the east coast of India for railway laying and other trades persons. The African were at that time not good at any thing it seems.

The British left after ruling the land for some time and the Indians stayed as they did in many other places around the world, from Fiji, to Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, East Africa, to West Indies etc. These Indians had in their hands the whole economy of Tanzania, as it was the case in Uganda and in Kenya too. When I arrived in Dar-es-Salaam I could not find many Africans, only Asians every where; and Hindi, Gujarati was spoken freely. The Africans were working as boys and odd job men. The president of Tanzania was Mualimu Julius Nyerere. He was called affectionately by Africans as Mualimu and not as President. Mualimu is muallim in Arabic meaning teacher. Nyerere was a teacher in his earlier days. Because of this we teachers had a lot of respect. Once me and my friend were taking a short cut in the night through a park infested with thieves. We were stopped by three Africans. I explained that I was a teacher in a school (Meme mualimu). I was allowed to go and the other person who said he was a shopkeeper was robbed. To me they had said, HAKUNA MATATA.


Posted by on August 11, 2011 in LIFE'S GREAT MOMENTS



  1. Sumaira

    August 11, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    abu….aap ki yadassht is amazing!! itna puraana qissa yaad hai…magar subah rakhi huwi chaabi bhool jaate hai!! 😀 Only important things are worth remembering!! Love it!! keep them coming!!!

  2. shakilakhtar

    September 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Samera, parson ki bhooli hui chabi aaj mili. han baqi sab yaad hai. is kahani men sara qissa sach hai.

  3. Blood-Ink-Diary

    February 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    My goodness Shakil ! You sure have made me nostalgic as I recall my days in Dar. You are borne to write a book — please do! Reading your post, I have totally relished your writings and I rarely get engaged so quickly, but, your writings are refreshing and love the style – free spirit — mzuri sana, bwana Shakil. Asante sana for letting me know to read this one!

  4. Blood-Ink-Diary

    February 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    ah, but, Shakil, this part “The African were at that time not good at any thing it seems.” — incorrect, more on this later. cheers.

  5. shakilakhtar

    February 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Shaheen ji, I am thrilled to know that I can write, and that coming from a person as accomplished and as versatile. I also feel honoured to be able to capture your attention and for getting you engaged in this very ordinary theme.
    (2) I thank you for correcting me about Africans not knowing much at that time. I also appologise to my African brothers. I never intended any racist intonation as I always respect all human beings as brothers and Africans in particular.

  6. Blood-Ink-Diary

    February 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Shakil, never under estimate your writings and the contributions you share. One can only get engaged in reading if the writer has a style to convey – you sure do!
    Apropos Africans — I have no doubt that you meant well. keep in touch!

    • shakilakhtar

      February 8, 2012 at 8:03 pm

      Thanks Shaheen for your understanding and for very encouraging remarks about my writing. I will sure try, now that I have at least one reader assured. I feel I do have a long tale to tell.
      [“I have a long and sad tale” said mouse to his friend duck” I can see it is certainly a long tail but why do you call it sad.]


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